Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Television viewing, food preferences, and food habits among children: A prospective epidemiological study

Helle Hare-Bruun1*, Birgit M Nielsen1, Peter L Kristensen2, Niels C Møller2, Per Togo1 and Berit L Heitmann12

Author Affiliations

1 Research Unit for Dietary Studies, Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital, Centre for Health and Society, DK-1357 Copenhagen K, Denmark

2 Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:311  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-311

Published: 13 May 2011



Obesity has increased since the early 1980s, and despite numerous attempts, effective strategies to counter this worldwide epidemic are lacking. Food preferences are established early in life and are difficult to change later. There is therefore a need to identify factors that influence the development of food preferences. Our aim was therefore, to investigate cross-sectional and prospective associations between TV viewing habits and food preferences and habits, respectively. We hypothesized that more TV viewing was associated with less healthy concomitant and future food preferences and food habits.


Data are from the Danish part of European Youth Heart Study (EYHS) I and II, a prospective cohort study conducted among 8-10-year-old and 14-16-year-old Danes in 1997-98. Six years later 2003-04 the 8-10-year-olds were followed up at age 14-16 years, and a new group of 8-10-year olds were included. Data were analysed using mixed linear regression analysis. Cross-sectional analyses included 697 8-10-year-olds and 495 14-16-year-olds. Prospective analyses included 232 pupils with complete data at baseline and follow-up. Associations between TV viewing habits and the sum of healthy food preferences (ΣHFP), and the sum of healthy food habits (ΣHFH), respectively, were examined.


Inverse cross-sectional associations between TV viewing (h/day) and both ΣHFP and ΣHFH were present for both the 8-10-year-old and the 14-16-year-old boys and girls. The frequency of meals in front of the TV (times/week) was also inversely associated with ΣHFP among 8-10-year-old boys, and with ΣHFH in all sex- and age groups. Among girls, baseline TV viewing (h/day) was directly associated with adverse development in the ΣHFP during follow-up. The concomitant 6-year changes in ΣHFH and TV viewing (h/day) were inversely associated in boys.


Long time spent on TV viewing, and possibly to a lesser degree, frequent consumption of meals during TV viewing, seem to be associated with generally having unhealthy food preferences and food habits among school-aged children. These associations, however, were not generally persistent after 6 years of follow-up.